Viet Nam Generation Journal & Newsletter
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I missed this event: "Muhammed Ali and American Culture," the E.E. McClellan Symposium, hosted by the Department of History, Miami University, Oxford, OH, on April 10 and 11, 1992. Funding for the conference was provided by the E.E. McClellan Lecture Fund, with the assistance of the Department of History, The American Studies Program, the Provost's Office, The Department of English, The College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Physical Education, Health and Sport Studies, the Religion Department, the Affirmative Action Office, the Office of Student Affairs, the Office of University Relations, and the Black World Studies Program. Everybody loves Ali.
The program: Friday April 10, 1992, Robert Lipsyte, speaker, New York Times, "When You're With Me, Bob, You've Always Got Something to Write About." Saturday, April 11, 1992, lectures by various speakers. Convener: Elliott Gorn. Randy Roberts, "The Wide World of Muhammed Ali"; Othello Harris, "Ali and the Revolt of the Black Athlete"; Michael Eric Dyson, "Athletes and Warriors"; David Wiggins, "Ali, The Nation of Islam, and American Society"; Gerald Early, "Ali and Autobiography"; Michael Oriard, "The Sports Hero in the Media Age"; Alison Dewar, "Ali, Sports, and Gender"; Tom Hietala, "Last of a Dynasty: Ali, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson"; Jeffrey Sammons, "Muhammed Ali, Rebel with a Cause". Nice set-up: a speaker every half hour, a discussion period after every two speakers, a break after each discussion.
These people all sound so interesting: Alison Dewar is a professor in the Physical Education, Health and Sport Studies department at Miami University. She specializes in sport sociology, with emphasis on the study of feminism and gender. Michael Eric Dyson is a professor of religion at the University of Chicago. Cultural criticism and African-American life are two of his main interests. Gerald Early is a professor in the departments of English, American Studies, and African-American Studies at Washington University, St. Louis. He is a widely published cultural critic, especially on the subjects of blacks in music and sports. Othello Harris is a professor in the department of Physical Education, Health, and Sport Studies at Miami University. He specializes in the sociology of the black athlete. Thomas Hietala is a professor of history at Grinnell College. Robert Lipsyte is a columnist for the New York Times and formerly a correspondent for CBS. He has covered a variety of sports and written several books; he is especially interested in the role of sport in society. Michael Oriard is a professor of English at Oregon State University. He has written on the sports hero in American culture; he is currently at work on a book about early football. Randy Roberts is a professor of history at Purdue University. He has written biographies of Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, and numerous textbooks. He is currently at work on two projects, a biography of John Wayne, and one on Muhammed Ali. Jeffrey Sammons is a professor in the history department at New York University. His work has encompassed American boxing in the twentieth century, sport in South Africa, and, most recently, the history of golf. David Wiggins is an historian and chair of the department of Physical Education, Health and Sport Studies at George Mason University. He has specialized in the history of sports among African-Americans.
I would have driven to Ohio for this conference but I first heard of it after it happened, when I read Robert Lipsyte's "Backtalk: The Key to Understanding Ali," New York Times, Sunday, April 26,1992: 9. I scan any article I see on the great man to see if the journalist mentions that Ali gave up his career, abandoned millions of dollars, and defied the government because he thought that killing was wrong. They usually don't. Lipsyte did, but made a gratuitous and untrue distinction between the conscientious Moslem and the dirty longhair peaceniks who only opposed the U.S. commitment in Viet Nam because they were high on dope. Get a life, Bob, or at least read a few books. There's a conversation about Ali in W.D. Ehrhart's memoir Vietnam-Perkasie, by the way. Ehrhart shows himself in a tent plotting targets for that night's H & I fire, when Floyd Paterson taps him on the shoulder. The champ is there on a tour to cheer up the troops. The soldier asks the fighter what he thinks about Ali defying the draft. Paterson makes some gracious, positive statement that downplays Ali's remarks without at all disparaging a fellow athlete.
I wrote to Gorn asking if we could print the essays from the conference. He told me that Larry Malley at Duke University Press already has them. I asked a university press maven about Malley and learned that he is the editor to follow if you like sports history.
AT&T signed an agreement with Viet Nam officials to reopen direct communications service between the U.S. and Viet Nam for the first time in 17 years. The signing took place 3 days after the U.S. announced a decision to lift its ban on telecommunications with Viet Nam. AT&T said the start of service hinges on acquiring all necessary U.S. regulatory approvals, but that it hoped to offer a limited direct-dial service in a few days by sending calls through third countries. The company said direct links could be available in a matter of weeks. (From the Wall Street Journal ). AT&T will offer international direct dialing, operator-assisted and AT&T Calling Card calls to Viet Nam from the U.S. and collect and AT&T Calling Card calls from Viet Nam. Eventually, the company also is planning to offer AT&T USA Direct Service and fax service. AT&T will use 210 undersea-cable, microwave and international satellite circuits to provide service. AT&T said its service will be priced from $1.77 to $2.91 a minute, based on time of day and length of call. Once phone service is restored to Viet Nam, only North Korea and Cambodia will remain cut off from U.S. phone lines. AT&T recently received US approval to restore service to Cambodia and now is trying to negotiate an agreement with Cambodian authorities. (
NY Daily News). Excerpted from AT&T Today.
I recently received my copy of Informed Dissent: Three Generals & the Viet Nam War and was mildly offended. In his essay, Dan Duffy described Edward Lansdale (page 5) as an "intrepid Army Colonel" and "an executive" of the CIA. He was, of course, wrong on both counts. Lansdale was Air Force and never held an executive position with the Company, not even as chief-of-station (which, after all, would be pretty far down the totem pole). Then on page 6 Duffy asserts that "Harry Summers, colonel of infantry was negotiating the U.S. exit from Sai Gon." He never did. He was a very low-level assistant to an assistant.
In the two major essays by Buzzanco and Ismi I count many references to Lansdale and at least eleven citations in their notes. Ismi, in particular, deals with the efforts of Lawton J. Collins to get rid of Ngo Dinh Diem and asks "Did Lansdale disobey Collins' explicit order....?" He ends with the observation that "evidence that could conclusively answer the above question remains in documents still classified by the CIA."
It is not a mystery at all for I dealt with the matter in my Edward Lansdale: The Unquiet American (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988). It astonishes me that so many "sage" comments would be offered about this man without even a basic reference to my well-received biography of the man. Perhaps that explains the many errors contained in the essays of Duffy, Buzzanco and Ismi.
Dan Duffy replies: Lansdale was Air Force officer. He was an executive of the CIA, that is, he acted under that agency's authority, for their interests, at his own initiative, and supervised agents in their employ. Summers' role in the withdrawal was small. I tried to make that point with sarcasm, but Cecil Currey's blunt statement is more exact and powerful. It was a substantial oversight not to mention Currey's authoritative biography of Lansdale in the volume. Our valued subscriber and contributor has not specified any errors in Buzzanco's essay or in Ismi's.
In a Warrior's Romance by D.S. Lliteras, a book of photos and haiku, nine inch by seven inch blue paperback, Hampton Roads Publishing Co., Inc., 891 Norfolk Square, Norfolk, VA 23502, 804-459-2453, 800-766-8009, 1991. Cover has a long vertical photo of a soldier in cammies and boonies and two bandoleers of great big rounds, one hand on a pole flying Stars and Stripes. By the photo is a blurb from E.R. Zumwalt, Jr., Admiral, U.S.N., (ret.). On the back is a wide horizontal snap of five more guys in cammies, none facing the camera, one boonie hat, one beret, a grenade launcher, some rifles, a lot of stacked sandbags, and a blurb from Donald S. Beyer, Jr., Lt. Governor, State of Virginia. Pages 2-199 are facing-page compositions w/a snapshot on the left and a poem on the right. Alarming snaps--apparently someone gave military weapons to a bunch of teenagers and turned them loose in a tropical country. All photos black and white. There is a long vertical gray block toward the outside of each page, a black outline on the top and bottom of each block and around all four edges of most of the photos. The snaps themselves are well-composed, in some cases by the photographer and other times by his subjects. The photographer is not identified and neither is anyone else. The varying uniformity of the page design twenty years later lends both immediacy and artfulness to what might have been a jumbled shoebox of fading keepsakes. Each poem goes with its photo--as a caption or a comment or a reaction. There is an effect of timelessness, and sure enough the author makes clear in his "Preface" that he's innocent of history. He thinks "history" is "campaigns and casualty statistics. . . the broad brush stroke." Sigh. Well, leaving alone what Lliteras hasn't done, he sure has made a lovely book. According to the author's note at the back of the book and to what he told me on 30 May 92 at the VVAW reunion, Lliteras enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1967. He served in Viet Nam in 69-70, earning a Bronze Star with a Combat "V" as a hospital corpsman attached to the First Reconnaissance Battalion, First Marine Division. He earned an M.F.A. in theater from Florida State University, worked in the theater in the 1970s and wrote several plays. He sailed on merchant vessels, then earned a commission at Navy OCS and worked as Diving and Salvage Officer. He is now a firefighter for the City of Norfolk. His haiku have been published in the US, Canada, Japan, and India. The page facing the title page gives acknowledgment to previous publishers. The author looks a lot like the soldier on page 32 who is not an Asian. Whoops, Lliteras just phoned in to say that his novel, In the Heart of Things, is now out from Hampton Roads Publishing Co, 800-766-8009, $8.95 trade paperback. It's about two homeless vets living in the streets of Baltimore, Maryland who embark on a spiritual journey. Lliteras says "It's not about depravity. It's about the conditions men live in and the conditions they can rise out of."
From David DeRose, our drama editor: In the December 1991 issue of Viet Nam Generation, I reported on a new drama by Steve Tesich, The Speed of Darkness, in which two Viet Nam veterans are united after a separation of almost twenty years. Recently, in a Village Voice interview, actor Stephen Lang, who played Lou, the homeless veteran, in the original production of The Speed of Darkness, talked about a rather disturbing incident which occurred in performance.
The play dealt with Vietnam veterans, and one night there was this disturbed guy in the audience. "I saw that on Geraldo," he calls out in a deep voice at one point. And a few minutes later, he says in an even more sepulchral voice, "I hope I don't have to come up there." Needless to say, we're all getting a bit tense.
So I'm into my big monologue, about using a can opener to scratch my name onto the wall of the dead in Washington, when suddenly I see on one of the actors' faces a look I've never seen in my life-a look of unmitigated horror. I turned around and emerging from the penumbra is this huge, fucking guy, bearded, flannel shirt, the classic Vietnam vet who came back to the States and went to live in the woods with nothing but a knife. And the expression in his eyes?--I mean this could have been explosive.
I was terrified--what if the guy had a gun?--but something told me to stay in character, and I turned around, walked over to him, reached up to put my hands on his shoulders and said, "No, no, no, you can't be here now. This is my house, and you can't be here now." He just stood there, so I repeated what I'd said as firmly as I could--I mean my cylinders were really firing. "We'll talk later," I went on, "but we can't talk now. You understand? You have to go!" Well, finally, without saying a word, the guy just turned, walked offstage, walked out of the theater, and we never saw him again. (Village Voice, 31 March 1991: 104)
Speaking of plays and of vets who "went to live in the woods," a new Viet Nam veteran drama by (non-veteran) playwright Lanford Wilson has recently been produced in Seattle and Philadelphia. The Redwood Curtain is about a young Amerasian woman who travels to the redwood forests of Northern California because she believes her father is among the Viet Nam veterans living as hermits in the woods there. She encounters a man named Lyman whom she decides, despite his silence, is her father.
I promise to give you the lowdown on The Redwood Curtain as soon as I am able to locate a copy of the script.
--David DeRose, Theater Studies, Yale, New Haven
Joel Schechter> of the Yale School of Drama and the New Haven Advocate reports: Dissenter and actress Margo Kidder joined other witnesses at an International War Crimes Tribunal hearing in New Haven, Connecticut, on October 30, 1991. The open public forum was one of some thirty hearings to be sponsored across the country this fall by a Commission of Inquiry, which seeks evidence of American war crimes committed in the Persian Gulf War last winter.
The Commission of Inquiry began last May, when one of its founders, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, said that the conflict in the Gulf "was not really a war. It was the use of technological material to destroy a defenseless country. From 125,000 to 300,000 were killed." Commission evidence suggests that the United States government planned the war against Iraq before that country invaded Kuwait, and the Pentagon then employed excessive and indiscriminate force resulting in considerable civilian casualties.
Margo Kidder spoke on behalf of her friend, Dr. Yolanda Huet-Vaughn, a U.S. Army physician sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison because her oath as a doctor made her refuse the call-up to serve in the Gulf. Another speaker, Nation magazine writer Bruce Shapiro, reported on the Pentagon's censorship of the media and loss of free expression by American dissenters as a result of the Gulf War. He said that the military expected volunteer soldiers to leave their consciences behind when the entered the Armed Forces; by his count at least fifty-four soldiers are now serving prison terms for refusing to fight in the Gulf. John Jones, a Vietnam veteran and now a housing rights leader in New Jersey, discussed how American domestic needs have suffered from neglect while the government wasted billions of dollars on war.
The Commission of Inquiry can be contacted at 36 E. 12th Street, 6th Floor, NY, NY 10003, or by phone at (212) 254-5385, FAX (212) 979-1583. They've got a book out, described in the Announcements of of issue 4:1-2.
Carol Miller at Lonely Planet was nice enough to send a complimentary copy of Southeast Asia: On a Shoestring (7th edition. ISBN 0-86442-125-7, $19.95, 928 pages, Lonely Plant Publications, 155 Filbert St, Suite 251 Oakland, CA 94607, tel. 510-893-8555, FAX: 8563) after we published Dana Sachs' review of Lonely Planet's Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia: A Travel Survival Kit in VG issue 3:3, pp. 75-6, so I'll put in a plug here. All sources agree that the Lonely Planet guides to Asia are the best ones for student and budget travelers. The Southeast Asia title is the firm's first and flagship book, first issued in 1975. New editions are regularly updated from sources in the field, giving specific directions for places to stay and eat and things to do. Having a guide to the whole region is an advantage, since anyone who goes to Viet Nam will almost certainly pass through Thailand at least. The SE Asia book covers Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Macao. The history sections are reliable and insightful, phrased with forthright delicacy. Daniel Robinson is credited with two of the Indochina chapters, but Joe Cummings, an RPCV who served in Thailand, who holds an M.A. in SE Asian Studies from Berkeley, seems to have played a hand here as well. For a guidebook devoted to Viet Nam alone, with more cultural information and less about cheap travel, see Barbara Cohens Viet Nam Guidebook (Houghton Mifflin, 2nd ed., 1992) also reviewed by Sachs in VG 3:3. Dana and Barbara are both in Ha Noi now, by the way. Dana is studying Vietnamese with the formidable Nhu Y Nguyen of the Institute of Linguistics (Vien Ngon Ngu Hoc, 20 Ly Thai To, Ha Noi, Viet Nam) and teaching some English to the family of economist Hong Lan Tran. Barbara gave up her medical practice, put her house on the market, and moved to Viet Nam this March. There is nothing more precious than freedom and independence. The retired psychiatrist organized the non-profit Southeast Asia Cultural Association just before leaving the States. She has established herself at the old Esperanto Club in Ha Noi. She recently wrote asking for anthologies of U.S. literature. Send books to Barbara Cohen, c/o Especen, 79E Hang Trong, Ha Noi, VN, tel: 2.66856, FAX: 84 42 56562, fax must include her above address. If youre planning a trip to VN, it would be worth your while to do Dr. Cohen a favor now. Shes a good friend to have in Ha Noi.
Updated Thursday, January 28, 1999